Entrepreneurs live for the light bulb moment. Game-changing ideas are to be grasped with both hands. Steve Reynolds has lived at the vanguard of travel technology for the best part of three decades.
He has founded companies and sold them. His CV is an enviable list of senior positions at a number of highly respected firms in his native Texas. But it wasn’t until he took a routine car journey between his office and Dallas-Fort Worth airport that he had his eureka moment. Tripbam was born.
Put simply, Tripbam is a hotel shopping service. It allows individuals, travel management companies (TMCs) and corporates to shop across multiple hotels over several days to take advantage of rate changes. For example, a user makes a booking at a particular property in London for £150. At the same time, the booker chooses a cluster of hotels within a certain radius at which they would also be happy to stay. The software automatically searches for a better rate right up until check-in. If one is found, an email is sent to the booker to ask if they would like to proceed with the change. Reynolds says based upon results data so far, the system finds average savings of around £35 a night on more than 80 per cent of bookings – and that equates to a significant amount of money.
The Big Idea
Reynolds had been undertaking a number of consultancy projects with travel agencies, many of which were focused on hotel revenues. Meanwhile, one of Reynolds’ agency clients in New York City was trialling something they called the ‘platinum desk’.
They booked the best rate available in a city centre, and then manually shopped every day to find a better rate at a pre-agreed list of properties. “It was manual, expensive, unreliable and inconsistent,” he recounts. So, it was while gazing out the car window on the way to the airport in Dallas that the solution suddenly dawned on him.
He says: “I noticed lots of hotels built across the street from each other, in clusters of two, three, and four stars. People generally don’t mind where they stay, as long as it is the best rate – and assuming they’re of similar quality. We thought: maybe there is something in this.” Reynolds and his team acquired hotel rates from a variety of sources and started to perform analytics.
“We wanted to know, if we were shopping hotels every day, how often would the rate go down? Would there be savings if you looked at similar hotels? The answer was yes. So we said, let’s automate this.”
At first glance, one might expect this type of software to upset hoteliers. But Reynolds says initial push-back came from agents who were concerned the system would make an ever bigger dent in their commission revenues. Corporates were also hesitant adopters, fearing it would hamper negotiated rates. However, Reynolds insists the technology works in favour of the agency, the corporate and the hotel.
“We can identify commissionable rates in the marketplace and book those,” he says. “On the corporate side we can actually help increase savings and compliance by making sure negotiated rates are taken from the clusters.” As for the hotels, Reynolds believes the tool helps them meet market-share commitments. “Some suppliers thought it would decrease average daily rates; but, if anything, we enable corporates meet their obligations as long as the hotel meets the negotiated rate. It drives volume.”
Looking to the future
The road ahead for Reynolds looks promising. Future releases of the product will be even more automated, and focused on meeting the needs of corporate travel managers. “Our plans to support open booking programmes and direct connects should help boost compliance levels,” says Reynolds. For intermediaries, the next edition will compare commission levels on properties already booked with those levied on best rates found.
Having already made great inroads into the US market, Europe is next on Reynolds’ to-do list. The company has already reached an agreement with London-based Win Travel Network (a global network of corporate travel agencies), and is set to meet several dozen other UK companies in the coming months.
Its most significant arrangement until now has been with BCD Travel, one of the largest TMCs in the world – but European markets should brace themselves for the thud of Tripbam.